This weekend, a friend asked me for a recommendation for a happy book. As I thought through the nonfiction I’ve read recently, I realized that most of it has been kind of depressing. But that’s one of the reasons I love good nonfiction — authors often tackle stories that are hard to read but need to be told.

The two books I’m sharing today, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and Detroit by Charlie LeDuff, are difficult stories for entirely different reasons, but are both books that I highly recommend — especially as audio books thanks to great narrators.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

unbroken by laura hillenbrandIn boyhood, Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent. As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that had carried him to the Berlin Olympics. But when World War II began, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to a doomed flight on a May afternoon in 1943. When his Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, against all odds, Zamperini survived, adrift on a foundering life raft. Ahead of Zamperini lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond, a trial even greater. Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion. His fate, whether triumph or tragedy, would be suspended on the fraying wire of his will.

Unless you’ve lived under a rock since 2010, you’ve probably at least heard of Unbroken — it was a breakout bestseller and has continued to be incredibly popular, despite the fact that it didn’t come out in paperback until just last month (a four-year run in hardcover… ridiculous). The accolades are all for good reason — this is a wonderful, moving, funny and difficult read.

Most of the charm in the book comes from Louis, a precocious kid turned Olympic hopeful who was forced to put his dreams on hold at the start of World War II. His odyssey adrift at sea and as a prisoner of war is has harrowing as any story I’ve ever read. Author Laura Hillenbrand gives context to his experience and helps tell the stories of many other POWs held in Japanese camps. The audio book was narrated by Edward Herrmann (Richard Gilmore from Gilmore Girls), who was entirely perfect. Unbroken is a great listen.

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

detroit by charlie leduffBack in his broken hometown, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff searches the ruins of Detroit for clues to his family’s troubled past. Having led us on the way up, Detroit now seems to be leading us on the way down. Once the richest city in America, Detroit is now the nation’s poorest. Once the vanguard of America’s machine age — mass-production, blue-collar jobs, and automobiles — Detroit is now America’s capital for unemployment, illiteracy, dropouts, and foreclosures. With the steel-eyed reportage that has become his trademark, and the righteous indignation only a native son possesses, LeDuff sets out to uncover what destroyed his city.

I got to see Charlie LeDuff speak when I went to a panel about books on places in crisis. It was striking, to me, that there was an author talking about an American city on the same panel with authors who wrote about recovery after natural disasters. But after listening to Detroit, it’s clear to me that the city is absolutely in crisis to that magnitude, and that the factors that brought it down are not that uncommon in major American cities.

One of the things I loved about this book was the gonzo journalism approach that LeDuff took — this story is personal for him and for the people living it, and the narrative is stronger for being so deeply rooted in their stories and opinions. LeDuff narrates the audio version of book himself, which was the perfect choice. You can really get a sense of his outrage and sorrow as he recounts the stories he reported. The story is compelling and sad and scary — absolutely worth a listen.

Disclosure: I purchased both of these books through Audible. 

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Currently | A Weekend at Home

by Kim on August 17, 2014 · 13 comments

currently august 17 2014

Time and Place // 9:30 a.m. at my desk in my office (an actual separate room) in our new house. Last weekend, I was in the Twin Cities to cheer on my friend Erin in a half marathon. Then on Wednesday, I had to drive to the Cities again for a training. I put a lot of miles on my car!

Eating and Drinking // Greek yogurt with granola and black tea.

Reading // August has been, predictably, a slow reading month. I did finish The MagiciansThe Magician King and The Magician’s Land over the last few weeks and felt really satisfied with how this trilogy ended. I can’t wait to find an excuse to reread them again. Since then, I’ve been having trouble settling into a good book — I’m hoping to remedy that today with either What Stays in Vegas by Adam Tanner or A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel. 

Watching // The boyfriend and I started watching The Americans yesterday — super tense and super good so far!

Listening // On one of my long drives to the Twin Cities I finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I also started The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith.

Buying // I went on a bit of a book buying binge the last few weeks, which I detailed in it’s own post this week.

Blogging // The blog has been quiet this month, but I’m hoping to get back in the swing of things soon.

Contemplating // I skimmed through most of It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig over the last couple of days. The book is an overview of the Whole30 Program, a Paleo-inspired food program designed to help kick bad food habits and replace them with good ones. My eating has felt out of control the last few months, so I am seriously considering this project.

Loving // It feels like it is taking a long time to get unpacked and settled, but I know it’s because I’ve been really intentional about how we unpack – keeping in mind my One Little Word, curate. It’s hard now (so many boxes!) but it’ll be worth it in the long-term to have a house only filled with things that we use and love.

Avoiding // I have so many blog comments to catch up on. I’m probably going to give myself a mulligan and just start over from this post instead of trying to catch back up.

Wanting // Can I get another day in this weekend?

Anticipating // Both of my fantasy football drafts will take place this week, one on Tuesday night and the other next Sunday night. I haven’t done any research… but it’ll be fun anyway.

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Books I Bought in August (So Far)

August 13, 2014 Musings

I was really good about not buying more books in the month or so up to our move at the beginning of the month… but then I sort of lost my mind and bought a ton of new books. In my defense, I got to visit three different bookstores when I was in the Twin […]

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8 Tips for Moving When You Have a Ton of Books

August 6, 2014 Musings

This post originally appeared on Book Riot. I wrote it as I was preparing to move and, now that I’m nearing the end of the unpacking phase, I can tell you that the tip about reusable grocery bags (included in #3) is the best one in the bunch. Being a mobile book hoarder can be a challenge. […]

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Currently | Settling In

August 3, 2014 Uncategorized

Currently, I’m sitting on my couch, looking at my partially-arranged living room, imagining how I’m going to arrange all of my books around the tv. Yesterday was our big move day, which went amazingly smoothly thanks to the generosity of family and friends. The house is still a disaster, but it’s quiet and cool and […]

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July 2014 Reading Wrap-Up and Look to August

July 31, 2014 Monthly Review

Whew, I can’t believe July is over. It feels like a crazy busy month, what with my birthday and traveling and signing a lease on a new rental house. I’m still sort of shaking my head and wondering how it went by so quickly. With all of that, I still managed to finish a ton […]

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On Liking, Not Loving, ‘Bad Feminist’

July 29, 2014 Book Review

I want to get on the bandwagon of people who have loved Roxane Gay’s debut essay collection, Bad Feminist (Aug. 5 from Harper Perennial), so bad that I’ve been tossing and turning my lukewarm reaction to the book around in my head for a couple of weeks, trying to figure out what I might be […]

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Currently | We’re Packing…

July 27, 2014 Currently

Time and Place // 9:50 a.m., for the last time at my desk in our current house. One week from today we’ll be in our new place! Eating and Drinking // Blueberry Greek yogurt and blood orange cinnamon black tea Reading // I spent most of this week reading How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor (Sept. 30 from […]

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Reviewletts: Immigration and Murder, the CIA and Spies

July 22, 2014 Book Review

I have a shelf on my desk where I keep books that I’ve finished but haven’t reviewed. There are several books that have been sitting there for a month or more that I keep meaning to review… and then can’t find much to say about despite having generally good feelings about them. In the spirit […]

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Currently | We’re Moving!

July 20, 2014 Currently

Briefly // The boyfriend and I are moving! We signed a lease on a new rental house last weekend and are gearing up to move into the new place on August 2. It’s quick, trust me, I know. I’m not sure what that is going to mean for the blog over the next month or so, […]

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